Diking district opponents win majority on diking board

The critics of Diking District 1's controversial pump project will soon be in control of the district's board of commissioners. Tom Kraft has an insurmountable lead in votes, 232-105, over incumbent Diking Commissioner Ray Gabelein for a seat on the three-member board.

Island County Auditor Sheilah Crider shows a questionable ballot to fellow election workers during Wednesday's vote tally in Coupeville.

COUPEVILLE — The critics of Diking District 1’s controversial pump project will soon be in control of the district’s board of commissioners.

Tom Kraft has an insurmountable lead in votes, 232-105, over incumbent Diking Commissioner Ray Gabelein for a seat on the three-member board.

Island County officials wrapped up their tally of ballots in Tuesday’s diking district election Wednesday.

Officials will finalize the election on Feb. 16. The elections office will count any valid ballots that are received before the certification date, and also decide the fate of a single ballot where the signature of the voter did not match the one on file with the state. Officials hoped to contact that voter late Wednesday.

Kraft, a Seattle resident, is one of the opponents of the assessment process used by the diking district to pay for a controversial $430,000 pump that is used to regulate water levels of wetlands and ditches near Useless Bay.

Some of the residents of the diking district, including Kraft, are suing the district in Island County Superior Court to have the assessments overturned. Critics say the assessments were unfairly calculated, and that owners of expensive beachfront homes are paying more for the pump than other residents because the assessments are based on property value.

Gabelein, one of two board members who supported the pump project, said the pump has kept properties from flooding within the district. He has been on the diking board since 2004, and this election was the first time he’s had an opponent for a seat on the board.

Diking Commissioner John Shepard, who has also opposed the assessments to pay for the pump and has participated in legal action against the district, watched the vote tally in Coupeville on Wednesday.

He traded concerned glances with a fellow district resident as Island County Auditor Sheilah Crider and other election workers reviewed questionable ballots — many from off-island property owners who could vote in the election — and rejected more than two dozen of them.

At the end, Shepard said he was happy with the results, which had given Kraft 67 percent of the vote.

“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” Shepard said. “I think the public has made an excellent choice.”

Shepard couldn’t say what would happen with the controversial pump, installed in December 2008.

“I’m not certain; that will have to be decided by the commissioners at their meeting,” he said.

A total of 29 ballots were rejected, many because the names of the voters did not match the list of local voters or the names of people who own property in the district.

A few ballots from the estate of Eva Mae Gabelein were also set aside.

Crider noted that “personal representatives” of property owners were not eligible to vote.

“A trust may not vote,” she said.

Two ballots that were postmarked after the election date were also rejected.



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